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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Writer's Life 6/14 - Obsession

I resist drawing conclusions from the shooting in Virginia. Here's a short story from the Billionths of a Lifetime collection. It's a 10-15 minute read. The title is Miller's Time:

   He turned left from the elevator and immediately spotted a note taped to the door of his apartment just below the large UFT decal. He scanned the message, crumpled and threw it to the floor.
   “I will not be bought,” he muttered indignantly.
   His bushy beard and what remained of the hair on his head were largely gray. He was of average height, about 50 pounds overweight. He wore wire-rimmed glasses.
   “Mr. Miller! Mr. Miller!” someone called.
   Miller recognized the voice and sneered as he let go of the doorknob and turned to the middle age man in a suit. “I've got nothing to say to you, Costas.”
   “Have you seen our latest offer?”
   “I’m not joining the plot to rid Manhattan of the middle class, to make it a playground of the rich.”
   “We’ll give you a studio right here in the building.”
   “The maintenance fee would be more than my current rent. What kind of deal is that?”
   “But you’d own the apartment and you’d be able to sell whenever you want. You have a nice pension and great benefits. You’d have no trouble keeping up.”
   Miller eyed him with suspicion, seething. “How’d you find out about my finances?” No doubt the banks were in cahoots with real estate agents and building owners.
   “Please, sir. You’re alone. You don’t need five rooms.”
   “What if my wife comes back? Take a hike. I’d never trust someone like you.”
   He entered the apartment and set one of the three locks. The interior was in the middle stages of disarray. Ashtrays filled to the brim were everywhere. His wife had always seen to the upkeep. He hadn't the time or patience for it. It’d been a year since she walked out and moved to Florida. He was surprised she was able to live outside of Manhattan. Both had been born and always lived in the borough. They’d spent their entire married life, raised their children in this rent-controlled flat. He’d expected they would die here. He felt betrayed.
   Without removing his coat, he lit a cigarette and sat at his cluttered desk, on which there were several books, a few open. He scanned a paragraph in one, closed it and returned it to its proper place on the top shelf of the case, which held books on the Kennedy assassination. The second was devoted to 9/11, the third to the McCarthy era. All were alphabetized.
   Deep in thought, he was startled by the ring of the telephone. He lifted the receiver and listened for a click, a bugging device. He heard none and chalked it up to the sophistication of modern technology.
   “Oh, Mark -- it’s you. How are you?”
   “Fine, and you?”
   “I’m really on to something.”
   “I was afraid you’d say that.”
   “Benghazi was all about Khadafy’s gold, a massive amount -- stolen”
   “So what if it was? What’s it to you?”
   “How can you not care about the crimes your government perpetrates?” he said, exasperated. “That’s not how we raised you. There‘s also evidence that Hillary orchestrated the death of JFK Jr. because she was afraid he was going to run for senator, which would have ended her career.”
   “Dad, I love you, but you've got to get off this unhealthy track you’re on.”
   “I can’t look away while our freedoms are threatened. The NSA is probably listening to us.”
   “You’re nobody to them, Dad, a harmless crank, a retired teacher. Get your ego in check.”
   “You should be ashamed. Here’s something else, perfect for someone like you who likes warmongering pop novels. You find nothing curious about the deaths of Vince Flynn and Tom Clancy, two relatively young men by modern standards -- rich men who could have paid doctors forever to keep them alive? They died within weeks of each other. That doesn't seem like more than a coincidence to you?”
   “Why would the government kill them?”
   “Because they knew too much.”
   “People die, Dad. It’s the first rule of life. You told me that a long time ago when Uncle Morty died.”
   A heavy silence followed. All these years later, he still could not believe his younger brother was dead.
   “I spoke to mom.”
   Miller did not reply. He felt a pang as he gazed toward an end table and the picture that stood atop it.
   “She asked how you were.”
   “If she cared, she’d be here.”
   “You drove her away with your obsessions.”
   “She used to be so interested in politics.”
   “She still is. She’s involved in the retirement community. You should be down there with her.”
   “I’d go out of my mind.”
   “I’m afraid you will if you keep obsessing about conspiracies.”
   “I seek the truth.”
   Again silence came between them.
   “Have you heard from Sue?”
   “Your sister is busy doing good. Unlike you she isn’t a corporate sell-out.”
   “Yes, those evil corporations who provide millions of jobs and benefits, who pay enormous taxes and provide goods and services to the public.”
   “Who avoid paying taxes, more like it -- and overcharge for things we all could do without.”
   “Whatever. Mom quit smoking. You should too.”
   Miller scoffed. “Don’t send me anymore of those infernal electronic cigarettes.”
   “They can’t be as bad for you as tobacco. When’s the last time you had a checkup?”
   “Doctors can’t be trusted anymore. They’re shills for the drug conglomerates.”
   “Listen to yourself, for God’s sake. We have a liberal president and senate, and you’re more mistrustful than ever.”
   “Because it’s a one-party system of the rich. They should all be jailed, many of them shot.”
   “I’m worried about you, Dad.”
   “Worry about your country. I’m fine.”
   “I understand Costas made you another offer.”
   Miller smirked. “So that’s why you called. You've been talking to that slime behind my back, eager for a cut of the proceeds. You've been infected with the greed of your contemporaries.”
   “I don’t need your money, Dad.”
   Miller hung up, miffed that he was no longer able to trust even his own son. He glanced at his watch. He had plenty of time to get to the library downtown. Each day he visited a different branch. He kept a chart of those he used to make sure he did not leave a traceable pattern. He communicated by computer with fellow travelers, sharing evidence and hypotheses. He no longer had a cell phone or his own computer, which left a trail. He was eager to hear more about a contributor’s belief that Gene Vincent, and Buddy Holly and everyone aboard that plane had been murdered by the CIA in an effort to kill rock and roll in its infancy.
   He was excited, moving so fast his breath grew short.
   As soon as he was outside he lit a cigarette. There was a tightness in his chest he attributed to the biting cold and his anger at his wife, son, Costas and the government. He stopped outside a new pizzeria and finished his smoke. He loved pizza, ate it almost every day. He entered the shop and ordered a pepperoni slice and large root beer. Halfway through the meal he felt light-headed and flushed. Perspiration broke out on his brow. He removed his heavy coat. It didn't help. He felt worse, an acute pain in his chest unlike any he had ever suffered. He sniffed at his drink, certain it’d been poisoned. He looked to the counter, where a man was smiling at him. Was he working for the government or Costas?
   Bastards got me, he thought, keeling over, falling to the floor.
   Efforts to revive him were futile.
   An autopsy was performed. The doctor told Mark his father had suffered a massive heart attack. The procedure also found malignancies in the lungs. Untreated, they would have proved fatal in a year. Even an immediate operation might have failed.

With the inventory running low on the most popular commercial fiction, I brought out two paperback Susan Wiggs romances. Wouldn't you know those were the only sales of the session? My thanks to the kind woman who, as she has with many other books, overpaid for them
Vic's Sixth novel: 
Vic's Short Works:

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